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Review: Briar Rose, Jane Yolen

Rebecca Berlin has grown up listening to her grandmother, Gemma, tell her the story of Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty.  When Gemma falls ill and dies, her last request to Rebecca is to find the truth in the story, and Rebecca sets out to discover the story of her grandmother’s past.  She discovers a link to the Holocaust and a moving story of a true sleeping beauty.

Ever since I discovered Robin McKinley, I’ve been in love with the fairy tale feel her books have, and when I found this YA novel, I thought it was a great place to branch out.  This book is just stunning.  It’s short, but packs so much in that it’s almost unbelievable.  Through the medium of the fairy tale, told through the novel, Rebecca makes these shocking, moving discoveries about the Holocaust that blew me away.  She has very few clues about her grandmother’s past, but as she pieces the story together she realizes that she must go to Poland; she has only fragments of the true thread of the story.  And it’s in Poland that the story really comes together.  I don’t want to give it away, so I can’t say much more than that about it.

In truth, since the book is so short, the characters aren’t fleshed out very well and the plot has some convenient elements to it, like people that just turn up because they have all the missing pieces, but all of that really doesn’t matter.  As a reader, you’re far too caught up in the tale Yolen is weaving to care very much about Rebecca and her sisters.  What this book does is apply a fairy tale to one of the most horrible events in recent human history, making a connection that brings home the tragedy of it all.  The book left me feeling sad, but somehow hopeful that we can avoid this in the future.  Briar Rose is a tragically beautiful book that educates as it tugs on your heartstrings.

Wonderful book.  I doubt I’ve even come close to conveying why everyone should read it, but they should.

Buy Briar Rose on Amazon.

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